Regenerative farming puts heavy emphasis on taking good care of soil life. There are many ways to do it but it takes time to localize the knowledge and find out the best way that suits the needs of local farms. Over the past few months, our farmers and TAPs have made progress in successfully adopting certain practices and have observed the change on farms. It has been a great learning experience for all of us and we're especially grateful for Mrs Josephine Mak at Homeland Green for her continuous guidance and consultation.
Read below for the Top 10 learnings from TAP Hilda and the five regenerative farmers!
The first thing to do is to minimize the chance of prolonged flooding which is very common in local farms in the wet season. Infrastructure like piping, and making furrows properly are both very useful.
Properly made compost puts biology* back into the soil and creates a good foundation for crops to grow. Packaged composts are usually dried before putting in bags so the biology* is a little less active. It’s a good practice to moisten the compost with a bit of nutrient to wake the microbes before application.
Mulching keeps the soil cool and moist for the biology we put in. Compost application is meaningful only when we create a suitable environment for biology to thrive. It also greatly reduces the need to irrigate.
It’s more effective to supply nutrients for vegetables in the form of living bacteria rather than just supplementary nutrients, similar to how living kombucha helps build up our gut flora! Bacteria have their ways to cling to soil, unlike non-living nutrients like NPK heavy fertilizers. When bacteria are predated in soil, nutrients stored within them are released and become available to crops.
Macronutrients like NPK must be supplemented with micronutrients and trace elements in the proper ratio, so we don’t rely on just chicken manure, bone meals or other common fertilizers that contain excessive NPK for plant nutrition.
Any nutrient amendments applied should be properly diluted. Excessive nutrients weaken the crops and are difficult to fix, just like over-seasoning a pureed soup before it even gets reduced!
Compaction can only be fixed by soil biology that builds soil structure. Repeated and excessive tillage is not a solution to compaction but rather a cause of hardpan at the depth of the blades. Only till when necessary and focus on nurturing the soil biology in order to build soil structure.
Winter in Hong Kong is characterized by short sudden rises in temperature. It can be as warm as 25℃ on some days, severely causing stress to winter vegetable crops especially brassicas and may lower yields. However, healthy crops grown regeneratively can deal with such stresses better.
Healthy soil is less likely to flood even in heavy rain because of more stable soil structure.
Healthy crops taste very different from the conventional types especially those with distinctive tastes such as tomatoes, leafy greens, celery and carrots!
Sun Fung Farm 新鳯農場:
Eva makes sure her compost has a variety of inputs like different kinds of greens, fruits, food factory nuts and herbal pulp leftovers, and tree leaves. And she maintains aeration by using wire mesh and turning the pile when appropriate.
Cham Shan Farm 杉山農場：
Mushroom substrates from local mushroom factories are used in Cham Shan Farm as mulch. They are cooled before being applied to cherry tomato rows.
Cham Shan Farm 杉山農場：
Well mulched soil retains moisture much better. Pat Fan from Cham Shan Farm only needs to water his mulched crops once a week.
Hong Miu Organic Farm 康苗有機農場：
Regeneratively grown Choy Sum from Hong Miu Farm looks shiny and tastes amazing!
*Soil biology is essentially the complex biodiversity inside soil that boost healthy vegetation, it includes all the organic matter, bacteria, fungi, and living creatures that renders the necessary nutrients for crops.